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Lasting Love: Valentine's Day Advice from Couples Growing Old Together

By Claire SamuelsFebruary 10, 2021
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In 1953, Virginia was celebrating a friend’s birthday at a bar called Rendezvous. Robert walked in, just home from Korea, and stopped to talk with the party. Was it love at first sight? “Absolutely,” they say. The two met in April, married five months later, and are still together after 67 years.

Finding someone to grow old with is a priority for 81% of Americans, according to the Pew Research Center. But with more than 40% of US marriages ending in divorce, sometimes “together forever” is easier said than done.

We talked with three senior couples whose marriages have stood the test of time for more than 50 years. Get romance tips from these long-time lovebirds, and learn what they’re up to for Valentine’s Day during this unprecedented time.

13 tips for lasting love

From “never go to bed angry” to “argue naked,” you’ve probably gotten all kinds of marriage advice from friends, family, movies, and books.

Something all three couples we spoke with agree on? There’s no great secret to a long marriage. You take it day by day, and put love first as the relationship grows.

Here are a few key tips from couples aging happily together.

  • Enjoy the present. “Enjoy the time you’re in! Even with the pandemic, we find things to enjoy. Don’t worry about the future. Just say you’re going to do something and do it right. Treat each other right,” says Robert about his life with Virginia.
  • Share decisions. “Share,” says Robert. “Don’t be greedy. Whatever you decide to do, it can’t just be one person, it’s got to be two.” Whether you’re considering a move or change of job, consult your partner and make big decisions together. “You share your idea, and may end up going in a different direction altogether.”
  • Travel and explore. Carl and Annie were school sweethearts, and have been married for over 71 years. In that time, they’ve visited all 50 states at least once, cruised through the Panama Canal, and even explored the Greek Isles. Whether you’re taking a quick weekend trip or jet-setting to another continent, travel is a great way to make memories and strengthen romantic bonds.
  • Spend time together. “If we walk, we walk together,” says Robert. “We do exercise classes together, and go to the dining room together. We don’t see that many movies, but if we did, we’d do it together!”
  • Spend time by yourself, too. Alone time can be a good thing, especially for people who value solitude. “Before we were married, I spent a lot of time by myself, reading or going on walks,” says Megan, who’s lived with her husband, Jamar, for nearly 52 years. “It took a while to realize I still needed those things, even in our shared life together.”
  • Find something you both love to do. Virginia enjoys quilting, and while Robert doesn’t sew or pattern his own quilts, he helps her pick colored fabric. “I’m not as good at picking them out, and he sees so many colors in a way I don’t. So we find a way to do things like that together.”
  • Put family first. Family means different things to different people. Whether you choose to focus on your bond as spouses or raise children together, support your loved ones. For Carl and Annie, family means 24 great-grandchildren!
  • Learn to communicate. Virginia emphasizes the importance of communication in issues both big and small. “There’s no great secret — you just have to consider the other person and communicate,” says Robert.
  • Share the same convictions. A strong, mutual faith is the bedrock of Carl and Annie’s relationship. Even if you and your partner don’t practice the same religion, talk about the big things in life you both value.
  • Support each other. “My favorite thing about marriage is that she’s been there to support me and take care of me,” says Carl. Supporting your loved one can take many forms, but it’s key to a healthy marriage. “Jamar has been there for me through everything — the deaths of my parents, retirement from a job I loved, and so many more. And I’ve been there to support him as well. It’s mutual,” says Megan.
  • Grow old together. Many couples move into senior living together as they age. By taking away the stress of household chores and responsibilities, spouses are free to explore new activities, pursue favorite hobbies, and make time to focus on each other.
  • Try new things. Whether you’re going on a cruise, like Carl and Annie, or taking up fishing, like Jamar, trying new things can keep a lengthy relationship exciting. Virginia suggests finding something you’ve always enjoyed and becoming more active with it as you age.Her most important advice? Share those experiences. “You’ll always enjoy something more doing it together than alone.”
  • Show them how much you care. Don’t shy away from showing your partner how much you love them.

    Robert and Virginia on their anniversary at the Meridian at Lake San Marcos

How to show love on Valentine’s Day and every day

People express affection differently, but here are a few ideas to let your loved one know you’re thinking about them:

  • Write a sweet note.
  • Order takeout from their favorite restaurant.
  • Offer a back rub.
  • Make extra time for them.
  • Suggest watching their favorite movie (even if you think it’s boring!).
  • List the things you love about them.

Lasting love in senior living

Everyday chores aren’t stressful for Carl and Annie any more. The couple moved into Pacifica Senior Living Country Crest just under two years ago, and love that cooking, cleaning, and linens are done for them.

Virginia and Robert have found new activities to do together. They’ve called The Meridian at Lake San Marcos home for about four years now, and they’re frequent participants in planned activities and exercise classes. They praised both resident and staff resilience, for showing creativity and staying engaged during the pandemic.

Enjoying a more simple life can also strengthen bonds. Megan and Jamar recently moved into an independent living apartment near their daughter. While downsizing was challenging, they’ve grown to love the simplicity and amenities of their new home.

Carl and Annie at Pacifica Senior Living Country Crest

About growing old together

“I didn’t even think I’d live this long! I thank God I’ve survived accidents and injuries to keep going and be working toward 72 years of marriage.”

-Carl

“When you’re going into marriage, it’s not a six-month or year-long trial period, it’s a commitment for the rest of your life, and that’s what you know from the beginning.”

-Virginia

“We didn’t get married until later—34 and 35— because we both knew we were looking for forever and hadn’t found it yet. That was unusual back then, but it’s worked out!”

-Megan

Best Valentine’s Day memories

“My daughter Chelsea was 10 at the time, and Robert came home with a bouquet of flowers for me, and one for her also. It was unexpected — I didn’t ask him to do it or anything, and it was so thoughtful and considerate.”

-Virginia

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“One of our daughters was born on Valentine’s Day! That’s definitely the most special memory.”

-Annie

“This was probably 40 years ago — we were supposed to go out, but we ended up snowed in — called in from work the next day and everything. We played so many games of Scrabble and went through a lot of wine!”

-Megan

Socially distanced plans for a different Valentine’s Day

The coronavirus pandemic affected many holiday celebrations over the past year, and now it’s Valentine’s Day’s turn. Robert and Virginia, who normally go out to eat, are swapping their usual dinner plans for a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at their assisted living community’s vaccine clinic — a pretty great holiday present!

Senior living communities make the most of a safe holiday

Most years, senior living communities go all-out with holiday parties. In early 2021, there may not be hired bands or community-wide Valentine’s dances, but program directors continue to think of unique, safe, and socially-distanced activities for residents. Valentine’s Day celebrations may include:

  • Festive hallway decorations and banners
  • Activity boxes with holiday-themed puzzles or word searches
  • Heart-shaped cookie decorating or cake-making
  • A newsletter or announcement featuring resident love stories
  • A themed art or crafts class
  • Flower arrangements and candy gifts delivered to residents

Ideas for celebrating Valentine’s Day at home

If your Valentine’s traditions are put on hold this year, here are a few fun, socially distanced ideas to shake things up:

  • Try a virtual cooking class together. There are plenty of free options, and some paid courses from renowned chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Thomas Keller.
  • Play a trivia game. Link up with your friends for virtual trivia, or use a site like QuizWitz for a custom game all about you. Looking for something lower tech? Write questions about yourselves on index cards to see which partner knows the most random facts about the other!
  • Have a dance party at home. It may feel silly to dance around your living room, but nobody’s watching! Whether it’s disco or classical, put on your favorite tunes, move the furniture, and dance the night away.
  • Order a multi-course “favorites” dinner. If you’re looking to splurge, make a list of your favorite local restaurants and order a course from each. Your menu could include a crispy egg roll appetizer, cheesy lasagna, and decadent tres leches cake.
  • Get creative together. Buy a big canvas or some poster board and paint together, or follow an art tutorial online, like these sweet options from Pinterest.

Author
Claire Samuels